The White House today announced that more than 10 million homes have signed up for the Affordable Connectivity Program, the largest broadband accessibility program ever offered in the United States.
At a White House event on Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris, Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel and Senior Advisor Mitch Landrieu made the announcement, noting that the program was created by law. on infrastructure and that it is a $14.2 billion successor program to the emergency broadband benefit. which was imposed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Affordable Connectivity Program allows low-income households to apply for and receive a discount of up to $30 per month on internet service and up to $75 per month for eligible households on tribal lands.
Eligible households also have the opportunity to receive a one-time rebate of up to $100 toward the purchase of a laptop, desktop, or tablet from participating vendors if the household contributes more than 10 USD and less than 50 USD at purchase price.
A household is eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program if household income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, or if a household member participates in programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, SSI, WIC, or lifeline. Those who participate in tribe-specific programs — like the Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal TANF, or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations — are also eligible.
Those who are eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program or the School Breakfast Program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, as well as those who received a Federal Pell Grant during the year current award also have access to the program.
“The Biden-Harris administration is committed to breaking down barriers to affordable high-speed internet access. Thanks to the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, millions of families who previously couldn’t connect or struggled to pay for this modern necessity are now connected,” the White House said.
“The President and Vice President have made it a top priority to ensure that all Americans have reliable and affordable high-speed Internet access to learn, work, and participate in the 21st century economy. Broadband connectivity is vital to work, school, health But affordable broadband remains out of reach for too many people, with an estimate showing nearly one in three internet users worry about paying their internet bills during the pandemic. President Biden, Vice President Harris and the entire administration are committed to changing that through the implementation of the broadband provisions of the bipartisan Infrastructure Act that address the affordability of Internet service, a modern necessity.”
Several telecommunications giants, including Comcast and T-Mobile, have urged customers to participate in the program and offered special deals to those who do.
The FCC will work with other government agencies to host ten Affordable Connectivity Program enrollment events in different parts of the country over the next month.
Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of national nonprofit EducationSuperHighway, said the fact that 10 million homes are now enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program validates the need for a permanent broadband subsidy program.
The “broadband accessibility deficit” keeps 47 million Americans offline, is present in every state and disproportionately impacts low-income, black and Latino Americans, Marwell explained. During the pandemic, more than 15 million students were unable to attend school due to lack of home connectivity.
EducationSuperHighway has spent years working to bring high-speed internet to every school nationwide and pivoted in November to help the more than 18 million American households that have access to internet service but cannot afford it.
Marwell explained that the large number of households enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program showed there was a huge need for help and said the program could not expire in 3-4 years.
“At the same time, the Affordable Connectivity Program has done little to bridge the digital divide. The vast majority of households that signed up for ACP (estimated at over 90%) already had the home debit or use it for their wireless phone bill,” Marwell said.
“That’s why, even with 10 million homes signed up, the adoption rate for the Affordable Connectivity Program is less than 30% of eligible homes – we’re not connecting those who need home broadband the most. for the program to be truly considered a success, it must make significant progress in effectively bridging the digital divide by helping 50-75% of the 18 million unconnected households with internet access to sign up for a broadband connection home. “
Marwell said ZDNet that the FCC and its partners should focus their outreach efforts on unconnected households rather than those who already have internet access. He noted that they plan to spend $100 million over the next five years on this effort.
But he added that government agencies need to simplify the process of registering households not connected to the CPA by allowing nonprofits, trusted institutions and local governments to help them with the registration process. CPA in person and by telephone.
Without such assistance, Marwell said the government would create a catch-22 for unconnected households – they don’t have internet access, but the primary and most efficient way to register for CPA is via the internet. .
“This is a hurdle that few unconnected households have been able to overcome and we must leverage proven assisted enrollment strategies to overcome this challenge if we are to make meaningful progress in bridging the digital divide. “, said Marwell.
“Finally, we need NTIA to ensure that Digital Equity Act funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act are used to identify and enroll unconnected households in the CPA. By making this a priority for the $2.75 billion investment Congress has made in digital equity and adoption, NTIA can make more progress in closing the digital divide, faster. than with any other broadband program in the Infrastructure Act.”
Gary Smith, CEO of software company Ciena, noted that the funding will take some time to reach the right businesses and the right households, and we shouldn’t expect it to bridge the digital divide overnight. .
A concerted effort by companies in the telecommunications sector is now needed to reach those most at risk of being left behind as quickly as possible, Smith explained.
“Increased infrastructure collaboration and sharing, along with additional investments in software and automation, will lower the cost for service providers to expand networks and deliver affordable services to under-connected communities,” Smith said.
“Every tech leader should be asking themselves now if there is more they can do to help improve connectivity across the country.”